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Israel Releases Tax Payment to Palestinians

Israel says it will release tax and customs payments to the Palestinian Authority. The payments were suspended last week, after the Islamic militant group Hamas won Palestinian parliamentary elections. Israeli officials say the measure is temporary, and they will not release any further revenues to a Palestinian government controlled by Hamas.

Israeli officials suspended the customs and tax payments to the Palestinian Authority last week, saying they needed to complete a policy review of the current situation in the Palestinian territories, following the dramatic election victory by the Islamic militant organization Hamas.

Israel transfers millions of dollars of customs and tax revenue every month to the Palestinian Authority. Israeli officials were withholding about $50 million, and Palestinian officials said that, as a result, they would not be able to pay an estimated $140,000 Palestinian civil servants. Israel's deputy defense minister, Zeev Boim, says Israel decided to transfer the money now, because Hamas has not yet joined the Palestinian government.

Boim says that, when Hamas joins or forms the next Palestinian government, Israel will suspend payments again. He says, Israel will not transfer any revenue to a Palestinian government headed by Hamas, unless Hamas renounces terrorism and recognizes Israel.

Hamas leaders have rejected the conditions, and say they will find other sources of revenue in the Arab world.

The funds Israel transfers to the Palestinian Authority make up nearly half of the Palestinian Authority's estimated $116 million monthly budget.

Hamas leaders say they will go ahead and form a new government after the Palestinian Parliament opens on February 16. It is unclear if other Palestinian parties, such as Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas's Fatah Party, will join Hamas in any new government.

Western donors, such as the United States and the European Union, also say they will not fund a Hamas government. Western donors provide the bulk of the Palestinian Authority's estimated $1-billion budget every year.

Meanwhile, the Palestinian Authority attorney general told reporters that an internal corruption investigation indicates senior Palestinian officials may have stolen or squandered at least $700 million during the past several years.

Ahmed al-Moghani says an investigation into corruption has found 50 cases of financial and administrative corruption. He says 25 officials have been arrested, while 10 others have fled abroad. Among the examples uncovered was a fictitious $6-million pipe factory, that was funded in part by $2 million of Italian aid money.